This celebrity chef’s cancer diagnosis shocked his Instagram followers — and him, too: ‘Yes, it was a surprise’

Chef Richard Hales posted a picture of himself convalescing from thyroid cancer surgery on Sept. 10.
Chef Richard Hales posted a picture of himself convalescing from thyroid cancer surgery on Sept. 10.

Many of chef Richard Hales’ Instagram followers were surprised, if not shocked, when he posted a picture of himself in a hospital gown after having thyroid cancer surgery.

Hales understands. He was shocked, too.

Hales, a Food Network personality and one of Miami’s least public but most influential chefs, had half of his thyroid removed Monday after doctors discovered a tumor growing on the gland several weeks ago.

“Yes, it was a surprise,” he said. “But the prognosis is very positive.”

Chef Richard Hales is the founder of Sakaya Kitchen, Bird & Bone and Blackbrick restaurants.

Hales, 48, said he had been feeling ill since January. The chef-owner of Sakaya Kitchen, Bird & Bone and Blackbrick had been sick to his stomach and had trouble keeping food down. When he visited doctors for an endoscopy, they noticed nodules on the inside of his throat. Further tests revealed cancer.

Hales remembers the tech conducting the test was startled and told him, “you’ve got to go see a doctor right away.”

The picture of vitality, a former Tampa high school football lineman at 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, Hales said he actually has dealt with several health issues over the years. He is diabetic and has a pair of benign brain tumors that complicated his cancer surgery and will have to be removed “very soon,” he said. But that hasn’t kept him from practicing jiu jitsu and mixed martial arts.

And his personality belies his condition.

A frequent Food Network contributor (He guided Anthony Bourdain around Miami on “The Layover” and took on his colleague in “Beat Bobby Flay”), Hales is also a arm-chair comedian. He hosts a weekly comedy stand up at his Szechuan Chinese restaurant Blackbrick, where he also performs.

Even after the surgery, he was doing standup at the nurses’ station in his hospital gown and making crank calls from the station phone with his 7- and 8-year-old daughters. He posted a cheeky photo of himself in breezily tied hospital gown.

Hales said he will return in 10 days for a follow up to determine if doctors will have to remove the remaining part of his thyroid. For now, he remains sanguine about his progress, despite a 4-inch scar along his neck that he told his daughters came from a Chinese star-fight.

“The reason nobody knows about my health issues and are surprised is because I never talk about them or really think about them,” he said. “I truly live in the moment and love life. I am living my best life and I do whatever I want. I never want to weigh anyone down with my issues nor do they weigh me down.”